Friday, January 7, 2011

Writing Inspiration: The Notebook

I can't remember a time when I didn't love to write.  In grade school, on days when it poured and we were forced to have recess indoors, my friend Missy and I would challenge each other to write a whole story by the end of recess.  Our number two pencils would fly across the wide-ruled pages so quickly that we'd have to stop and sharpen them at least twice before the bell rang.  I finally wised up and started bringing in my father's hard-leaded number 4 Ticonderogas; I could whip through an entire story about Gary the Grape or Mr. and Mrs. Brown the Circus Clowns without so much as looking up from the page once.  My love of writing stemmed from a love of reading, and that, I know, came from the early days of my parents reading me stories when they tucked me in at night.  Every child deserves this beginning in life.  It is a gift that will serve her and grow with her throughout her life.

As an adult, I've been writing and publishing since my early twenties.  I earned my MFA in creative writing in my late twenties, and writing and teaching others to write have been at the center of my life ever since then.  If you are someone who shares this passion for the written word, I hope you'll keep coming to visit me in the coming months.  On Fridays I'll be offering a writing exercise, tip, or bit of inspiration.  All of these exercises are ones I use myself or ones that I have used over the years to help students hone their skills and develop their craft.  If you feel like you want to improve your writing or that you just want to feel more inspired, try some of these exercises and tips for yourself.

This week's piece of inspiration is a basic--but important--one:  If you don't own a writing notebook already, find one and make it your own.  It doesn't have to be a leather-bound, hand-stitched wonder, but it can be if that's your preference.  Really, a cheapie lined notebook will do.  I use small-ish notebooks that I buy in large-ish quantities at Bob Slate's in Cambridge, MA.  They're inexpensive, but the paper is a soft green that I find soothing to my eyes, and I love the line width.  I write a lot, so I need a constant and affordable supply!    

Why a writing notebook? you may ask.  Why not just tip, tap, type away on my laptop?  My answer is simple.  You need it.  Writing with a pen or pencil is completely different from typing on a computer.  It uses different parts of your body, different parts of your brain.  I taught college for a long time, and I was always fascinated by a roomful of students taking an essay test.  As their pencils moved, their whole bodies became involved in the writing process.  Some bobbed their heads, some hunched over, some moved their mouths as if speaking the words, some slid right to the edge of their chairs, almost as if  they were about to hop up and chase after the elusive perfect phrase.  We don't use our whole bodies in the same way when we type, and we certainly don't use our brains in the same way.  Writing by hand is messy business.  When our hand moves across the page there's a direct physical connection between thought and hand and pen and page.  We are touching our thoughts, tracing them, shaping them into being, almost like a sculptor.  I'm talking magic, and that's just what we need to do some serious writing.  So if you feel like working on your writing this winter, get yourself a writing notebook--or start a new one special just for 2011.  If you feel artsy, decorate it.  If you can't be bothered with that, leave it plain.  But DO put your name and email address on it, and do write somewhere on the inside cover a dollar amount award for its recovery if lost.  Make it have value right from the start.  Make it your very own.

Once it's yours, bring it with you everywhere you go (this is why I use small notebooks; they can slip right into whatever bag I'm carrying).  When you see something gorgeous or weird or funny or frightening or infuriating, write it down in your book.  When you dream up a question, write it down.  When your kid says something funny, write it down.  When you overhear two women talking at the coffee shop about the bachelorette party they went to, write down a snippet of their dialogue.  Think of everything as raw material.  Some of you already do this and have done it for years.  If you have never done it, start to.  You can use this same notebook for the exercises I'll be posting here or for your own story/poem/essay ideas.  Just don't let it become a place where you jot down to-do lists.  Never write things like

toilet paper
nail polish remover

in your writing notebook.  Let it be special.  Make it yours.

I'll meet you back here next Friday with an exercise.

The above photos are by me, processed using greydaystone texture by Kim Klassen.


  1. Thank you so much for reminding me about what I'd forgotten about writing vs typing!!

  2. I am SO looking forward to this! :) I've always had notebooks (yes, plural) in every room of the house, since you never know where or when inspiration will strike. I, too, have written since my childhood and can't imagine life without the written word. I'm very excited about your Friday exercises! :)

  3. We use the same notebooks! Isn't the green paper wonderful?

    eee! I'm so looking forward to this.

  4. i am going to love this series! *excited*

  5. Sometimes I have to remind myself, too, Dan. I get very attached to my little Mac! :)

    You are so right, Kelli! By the bed is an especially good place--for catching those wild, drifting-off-to-sleep thoughts or crazy just-woke-up thoughts!

    Why am I not surprised that we use the same notebook, Cate?

    Yay, Char! So glad you're going to play along, especially since you inspire me all the time!

  6. I have the notebook and I am making it mine, so looking forward to this. Thank you Gigi!

  7. Just added
    "special notebook"
    next to organic eggs
    and paper towels
    on The List. Looking
    forward to this
    journey with you.
    xx Suzanne

  8. Hooray, Aynes! I'm so glad.

    I'm looking forward to it, too, Suzanne! Thank you.

  9. I have a notebook and have been planning to start once more writing Morning Pages. I must, I must do this! Yes, I must!

  10. I would be happy if I could just write an interesting post with half way decent grammar! I will try to join in quietly in the back ground but have always been shy about my writing...

  11. Yes, Marilyn! You must! :)

    Oh, Oliag, I hope you will! Nobody has to show any of their writing online or even make any comments. I just thought people might like some inspiration, so feel free to join in quietly, my friend.

  12. Oh, oh, oh! I know I'll love this.

    Happy New Year, dear Gigi.

  13. so beautiful. all of it.
    there is something so special about, going to buy a notebook, just for ones writing.


  14. I agree with Christina---completely! There is indeed something special about going to buy a notebook. To me, it's very much a ritual,and I'll hunt all over town for just the right one. And I always write in it with a fountain pen, because I love the *feel* of the ink sliding out of the nib onto the paper, sometimes cleanly, sometimes, if I let the nib linger, in blobs that I smear with the outside of my pinky (I'm a lefty). But the notebook, that's a special thing---along with my pen and wallet, I feel clothed and ready for the world when I have my notebook, and naked without it. The one I'm using these days is one with a fancy modern design and wackily uneven lines on the pages, from Angela Adams (full disclosure: Gigi, blessedly, gave it to me, special for a trip). I love this post, and can't wait to play with the writing tips---writing on paper (I'm at an academic conference where everyone, but everyone, including me, is tapping tapping tipping slapping away on laptops, and I'm looking forward to getting home and putting the paptop away for a few days to think onto paper with my splotchy ink).

  15. You are sooo right! When I studied medical terminology, our teacher had us write each word with it's definition ten times. Something about writing the words instilled them in my brain. I passed the class with flying colors!

  16. Yay, Angie!!! I've been missing you. Happy New Year!

    You are so, so right, Christina.

    Todd, hope you've been able to fill it up with good stuff. Hope, too, that "paptop" wasn't a typo, but a clever pun. It's fab!

    Oh, I agree, Mary Liz! I sometimes write down poems that I love so I'll remember them better, and I always did better on tests when I wrote my notes by hand.

  17. I am looking forward to this too. I love to write and will have to search out some me some of those notebooks. Have a wonderful weekend.

  18. Of course you have beautiful handwriting. Oh, I'm not surprised at all. I am loving this idea. What a wonderful, helpful series this is going to be. Thank you, thank you.

  19. Great ideas and tips! I just started a new notebook for the new year. I used to write for years then took a conscious break from my usual writing to change focus. Getting back into it, I can see how my writing has changed. Interesting process. I agree...longhand is best!

  20. hi there, i love what you wrote, it's so relevant to me right now. i have started this new year with such an urge to write more, to balance my images with as much text. but it's newer to me than images, which i know so well. it's slightly taken me by surprise, this passion for the written word, i wrote about dreams for a post the other day - and it was the most fun thing i think i've done in a long time, fun because that space i was in over an afternoon, was the best 'place' i've been in for such a long time.

    and then i've been thinking of stuff during the day, record them on a dictaphone usually...things i see or experience that make me think, oh but i want to use that in a story. i need a notebook...that is exactly what i need!!

    i'm interested in the process of thinking off the computer, it is so easy just to open up the mac...but i love the thought of a notebook, old-fashioned, hand-written, a different mindset!!

    thanks :)

  21. Oh My Gosh! I feel as though I have at last fallen in with the right crowd. Thank you so very much and I look forward to next friday!!

  22. Oh, I am so looking forward to this, Gigi--THANK YOU! I've started a new notebook (nothing fancy, a spiral bound which I decorated the cover, so now it is mine ;o) and have been dipping back into some creative journalling again. I've always loved the process of writing, the whisper of the pen flowing over the paper, the slight scratch of the pen tip as it goes, and if I'm lucky--the ideas rushing like a wave. I can't wait for next week. :o) Happy Days ((HUGS))

  23. i love that you are doing this. i just wrote how this year i am forcing myself to write daily in my journal. right now, it's still something i work hard at, like it's a i can only hope it turns into something i do easily everyday... like breathe.

    fingers crossed.

  24. I'll be here. I love writing and like you, it stemmed from reading. Words fascinate, structure is the struggle. An English teacher told me not to edit my work, but rather to distill it, to the essence of what I mean. It was a good lesson and one that always makes me pause, think, and then choose a better word. That was his other lesson, better words mean you need fewer.
    I am so glad you are doing this. You have a way of writing that inspires me.

  25. Something inside of me
    is hollering "YES!!!!"
    I love your blog,
    this post,
    and the way I leave
    over-the-moon inspired
    when I come around:)
    Altogether beautiful!

  26. I shall be here Gigi....I always have a little notebook in my bag as I never know when an idea might strike! xv

  27. I will join in too....I can't wait!! xxoo :)

  28. Yes, yes, yes! I can't wait to see what the exercises will be. I love writing in my notebook with my fountain pen. And I carry a pencil pouch with me at all times that has a pencil, special pen, fountain pen and highlighter in it--I never know which one I'll need to use! And I always have a notebook of some kind. I'm always prepared, yet still scribble notes on any available piece of scrap paper if it takes too long to pull out the good stuff! Thank you for sharing this idea with us--I'm excited!

  29. Thanks for the comments, everyone! I'm so glad that you're excited by this, too. I can't wait!

  30. guess what, dear gigi ...
    i am going to 'do' it
    count me in
    a resounding yes, i am!!

    i am thrilled to have your friday class to look forward to ...
    i am honoured to learn from you ... : )

    hee hee, reading your post again and i can just see you flying across the room to sharpen your pencil ...
    see the earnest look of contentment on your face as your parents read to you ... soaking it all in as fast as you might ... : )

    it truly is magical to hand write ~ love your analogy of a sculptor and the whole relationship of mind to hand to pen to paper ...
    a couple of winters ago i took a pottery 'on the wheel' course which was such an amazing lesson in getting my mind to communicate with my hands again ~ some classic flobs before everyone 'got along'! ; )

    gathering my notebook
    and sharpening my pencil,
    thanks to you!

  31. This is so true! A notebook: the simplest advice and the best. I've just discovered your blog and I'll certainly come back - lovely photos, too.

  32. I am so going to try this! I struggle with finding interesting things to write about, and carrying around a notebook everywhere I go sounds like the most perfect way to go. Thank you so much Gigi,for sharing your ideas. I look forward to following you along this journey, and improving my writing.

  33. I write everyday on various subjects, mostly just for my own enjoyment. I love reading creative writing... found you from the blog Emma Tree, one of my favorites, her words feed my soul. Looking forward to what you are offering. Thank you!

  34. I'm glad you found me, Jacque, especially via Debbi at Emma Tree. Her blog is one of my favorites, too. Thanks so much for your comment!

  35. Do you really write with a fountain pen? All I remember of those were the blobs left on my English papers. I was a disaster with those and the pens that we dipped in the Quill ink wells. Our 7th grade teacher was really old school in the early 1950s. And we had to write copies for her as well as the original!

  36. Oh, I love this question! Yes, I actually do write with a fountain pen, but it's a cartridge pen, so it's not messy at all. I make a mess with dip pens! My husband and I collect fountain pens, and he won't write with anything else. I'm not quite so picky! :)

  37. I have notebooks all over my house.....sometimes I write industriously, yet at others, I don't put pen to paper for a week or so......the words are still in my head though and will eventually make their way onto the pristine pages of one of my many books. I love 'the written word' and I love reading and collecting writing of all sorts, be it poety, prose, a word here and there or whatever.

  38. Gigi, I'm new to your Freewrite Fridays...and have taken your advice, beginning with the notebook.

    Your reasoning for "why" a notebook vs. a laptop make so much sense to me. It's why I've been having difficulty getting motivated write what is inside me...I need that pen and that paper.

    I've got just the book -- off to "make it my own"! Thanks!

  39. and as you can see -- I left words out and didn't complete spellings on the computer! lol!

  40. I love this because writing has literally saved my life -- more than once. I agree wholeheartedly about a person needing to physically write -- we do put our entire body into it.
    I'm going to write - again.


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